2016 ATP Year End Recap – Todd’s Tennis TakesFriday, December 2, 2016 12:00
Complete recap of the 2016 ATP season at all levels….new guys, old guys, and everyone in between.
2016 ATP Year End Recap
2016 was an exciting, turbulent year for men’s tennis, as there were developments at all levels that shook up the status quo. Let’s take a look back at the recently completed, pivotal year.
The Big 4 – The outlook changed significantly for all four members in 2016, as Father Time further established his presence (Fed & Rafa), while the mental taxation that comes with utter domination overcame a still prime Djoker. And of course, the burning desire to be #1 drove Andy Murray to a magical year that ended with a slam, a gold, a 24-match win streak, 3 Masters titles, and a #1 ranking.
FEDERER: The most affected by Father Time, but he did make the SFs of Wimby in his last event of the year. Now ranked 16th, his lowest since May 2001, he snapped a streak of 14 straight years being ranked inside the Top 10! There’s a good chance he’ll never make a slam SF or Masters final again, as he’s now 35 yrs old. NADAL: 2016 basically confirmed what we pretty much knew from 2015 – Rafa will never be ‘Rafa’ again. He failed to make a single slam QF, and again missed time due to injury. His 39 match wins was his lowest total since 30 in 2004. Endless years of full bore effort on every point have taken their toll on the now 30 yr old. DJOKER: A tale of two seasons… thru the French Open (44-3 record, 2 slams, 3 Masters, 6 titles total, 1st guy since Laver ’69 to hold all 4 slams) …and post French (21-6 record, 1 slam R-UP, 3rd Rd Wimby exit, 1 title – Toronto, and a #2 ranking for the first time since mid-2014). It seems to be largely between the ears for Djoker, family issues and mental fatigue overcoming his excellency on the court this past year, though arm issues also cropped up during the summer. Will his fire burn bright enough in 2017 and beyond to battle to reclaim #1? A boatload of early year points to defend from 2016 makes the journey tough from the start. ^^^Interesting note on Djoker’s career^^^ – He’s had 2 of the most dominant runs in the history of the sport that are responsible for a huge chunk of his Hall of Fame resume – Aussie 2011 thru US Open 2011, and then Beijing 2014 thru French 2016. Those 28 months represent just 20.3% of his career time wise (using French ’05 as a starting point), but account for 30 of his 66 ATP titles (45.5%), 15 of his 30 Masters titles (50%), and 8 of his 12 slam titles (66.7%), while winning 94.5% of his matches during those periods (207-12), compared to 79.2% during the rest of his career (544-143). MURRAY: His too was a tale of two seasons….thru the French Open (28-6, 1 title, 3 R-UPs – all losses to Djoker in final) …and post French (50-3 with 8 titles, including Wimby, Olympics, 2 Masters events, and the London ATP Championships). For the first time ever, the finals of the year end championships came down to the winner taking the #1 ranking for the year, and Murray beat his longtime rival Djokovic rather soundly, 6-3, 6-4, to finish #1. Right now is the first time since Feb 2007 (Mur #13, Djok #14) that Murray has been ranked higher than his lifelong nemesis. They’re both 29.5 with maybe 2-3 more years of dominant tennis in them…it’ll be interesting to see how they slug it out from here. Can they both keep younger foes (and ‘old guys’ like Wawrinka, 31) at bay while still owning slam and Masters titles? I suspect more encroachment from Raonic, Waw, K-Nish, Delpo, Cilic, & other Top 20 guys this coming year.
American Men – In 2007, only one American finished inside the Top 10 – the first time since 1986 that the USA failed to place multiple guys inside the Top 10 at year end. In 2012, zero Americans finished inside the Top 10 for the first time ever. Now in 2016, no American has finished in the Top 10 for the 5th straight year!! When does this end? Who ends it? JOHN ISNER: He’s been the highest ranked American at year end for 5 straight years, but he slipped from #11 to #19 during 2016, is now 31, and is unlikely to regain a foothold inside the Top 10. JACK SOCK: Sock is 24 yrs old, stayed inside the Top 30 all year, and won a personal best 37 matches in 2016. But unless he adds some variety to his Big Serve, Big FH game, and some more consistency as well, he won’t crack the Top 10…but near term, he has the best chance. SAM QUERREY/STEVE JOHNSON: Both are solid players, both inside the Top 35 (Sam #31, Steve #33) and both under 30 (29 and 26 respectively), but I’d be surprised if either broke inside the top 20, let alone Top 10. Querrey’s career has been marked by inconsistency and wide ranking fluctuations, while his career-best rank of 17 was almost 6 years ago. Unless Johnson learns how to come over a BH and not slice it 95% of the time, his ranking seems to be maxed out at about 20-25. He moves well, and has a strong serve and FH, but there’s just too much strong, young, well-rounded talent out there to reach the Top 10 with such a glaring liability. TAYLOR FRITZ: As an 18 yr old, Fritz splashed onto the scene early last year when he first won a Challenger event in Australia, then qualified into the Aussie Open, a few weeks later made the finals of Memphis (l. to Nishikori), and then qualified and made the QFs of Acapulco (l. to Querrey). The highlights were rather few and far between after that – qualifying and winning a round at Miami, and then doing the same at Shanghai. But he showed he could hang with the big boys, keep cool under pressure, and has some tools climb high in the ranks. Now 19, he finished the year ranked 76th, and as he gets stronger and quicker, he should be seeded at slams (ranked #32 or higher) by 2019, assuming continued development of his game. FRANCES TIAFOE: Tiafoe is a few months younger than Fritz, turning 19 in January next year, and boosted his ranking during 2016 from 176 to 108. His highlights along the way included making 5 Challenger finals (winning two of them), beating Fritz in a 1st round Indian Wells center court encounter, and then going up 2 sets to none on Isner in an epic 1st rounder at the US Open, before losing 7-6(3) in the 5th set. Tiafoe’s athleticism approaches that of Gael Monfils – he’s an absurdly fast, quick guy, extremely agile, and with tremendous racquet head speed. His strokes are a bit unorthodox, but he has such raw talent, I’d take his upside over every other American I’ve mentioned above. His quickness and speed is already ATP elite. As he gets more consistent and tacks on more ATP match experience, he should become the #1 American, and a Top 10 talent, for many years.
The Youth Brigade (Next Gen) – New blood into any sport is always exciting – just look at Zeke and Dak in the NFL and the Greek Freak in the NBA (21 yrs old – if you haven’t seen him, check YouTube highlights. Absurd talent.). When tennis players are young and the learning curve is steep, you want to see large jumps in their rankings, and that’s what we got from a number of promising talents this year. Let’s go over them by ranking:
Rank – [age] Player (Jan 1, 2016 rank)
#8 –  Dominic Thiem (#20) — A French Open SF appearance alongside 4 titles and 2 R-ups, boosted Thiem’s rank all the way to qualifying for the London Championships. Merely maintaining his rank in 2017 will likely be challenging, considering the company he keeps at #8 – Cilic (6) and Monfils (7) right above him…Nadal (9) and Berdych (10) right below. His 4 titles came on 3 different surfaces – his athletic game and beautiful 1-hand BH translates everywhere.
#13 –  Nick Kyrgios (#30) — Won his first 3 career titles in 2016 – all hardcourt – but then tanked a match so badly in Shanghai that he was suspended for the year. If he doesn’t find a stronger love of the game, there’s a good chance we’ll never see a mature enough approach to his profession from Kyrgios to maximize his absurd talents. Most experts agree he’s a potential slam winner, but they also agree they wouldn’t wager too much on it. At this point, he’s the epitome of ‘talented head case’.
#15 –  Lucas Pouille (#78) — Pouille galloped up the rankings, from fringe ATP qualifying / challenger level status to Top 15 in the world. He served notice immediately, beating Goffin at an Aussie tuneup in his first tourney of the year. He’s a gutsy, athletic shot-maker who goes big at big moments, playing with strong fire and intensity. His 4th Rd US Open win over Nadal, 7-6(6) in the 5th, displayed all his best attributes on a grand stage, and he also made the QFs of Wimbledon in addition to garnering his first ATP title at Metz.
#24 –  Alexander Zverev (#83) — Zverev rocketed up the ranks almost as much as Pouille, but at 3 yrs younger! The 19-yr old has been tabbed as another potential slam winner, due to his serve, groundstrokes (great BH), and surprising agility and speed for a still skinny 6’6” kid. He made 3 finals in 2016, winning one (St. Petersburg) by taking down Berdych & Wawrinka in the SFs and Final. He also beat Federer in the Halle SFs. He won 44 matches in 2016, tied with Monfils for 10th on tour. He has a very decent chance to finish Top 10 next year.
——————————–DIVIDING LINE – BELOW THIS LINE, TALENT NOT NEARLY AS OBVIOUS——————-
#45 –  Kyle Edmund (#102) — Edmund’s before beating Gasquet and Isner on the way to the 4th Rd (l. to Djokovic). He did reach a couple ATP QFs prior to that, as well as winning 2 Challenger events in the first half of the year. Big and athletic, he could be seeded at the 2017 US Open.
#48 –  Borna Coric (#44) — Our first Youth Brigader to see his rank fall in 2016…Coric plateaued and was also injured a bit in the ladder half of the season. His upside remains below Thiem/Zverev/Kyrgios, but Top 30 and Top 20 is still quite possible/probable for this very fast, hard-working young talent. Was at #33 in Summer ’15.
#53 –  Karen Khachanov (#152) — This tall (6’6”) Russian was playing all qualies and Challengers to start the year, before breaking through at Barcelona when he qualied and made the 3rd Rd, beating Agut before losing to Dolgopolov. It was then more qualies and Challengers until the US Open, when he qualied and won a round before bowing out to Nishikori in a tough 4-set 2nd rounder. Still brimming with post-US Open confidence, he then beat Sousa (#34), Mannarino (#66), F Lopez (#27), Troicki (#32), and finally Ramos-Vinolas (#31) on his way to a shocking title at the Chengdu, China event, taking his rank from 101 to 56 in the process, and changing his ATP life. Hopefully he can keep up the stronger results in 2017…I saw a lot of his 2nd rounder vs. K-Nish at the US Open, he looks legit.
#55 –  Jiri Vesely (#41) — An older name, still radically inconsistent, but flashed more sparks in 2016 with a win over Djoker at Monte Carlo and a 4th Rd Wimbledon effort. A big strong guy with nice touch, hopefully he gains some consistency in 2017…but after closing 2016 with a retirement in a Challenger match, who knows?
#75 –  Adam Pavlasek (#160) — Resume was almost exclusively minor league in 2016, going just 3-3 at the ATP level. 6’1” Czech did jump nicely in the rankings though…we’ll see if he can consistently win ATP matches in 2017.
#76 –  Taylor Fritz (#174) — Read above…(American Men)
#79 –  Jordan Thompson (#154) — Only went 3-10 at the ATP level in 2016, but did win 4 Challenger events, including 2 back-to-back in October. Much like Pavlasek, still has to prove he’s a legit ATP player.
#82 –  Thiago Monteiro (#463) — The massive jump in ranking is a bit deceptive since he was actually well inside the Top 300 back in 2014 before mysteriously slipping in 2015. The clay-courter from Brazil did make the QFs of Gstaad, beating Gilles Simon along the way, while going 6-7 overall in his 2016 ATP matches.
#99 –  Daniil Medvedev (#329) — Tall (6’6”) and skinny (176 lbs) but seems to be talented. Jumped a massive 230 spots in the rankings…did most of his work at the Challenger level in 2016, but did post a 5-5 ATP record that included a QFs appearance at Moscow where he beat Kukushkin and Troicki. Definitely a talent to watch in 2017.
#100 –  Yoshihito Nishioka (#117) — The tiny (5’7”) speedster from Japan mostly plateaued in 2016, but did win 2 Challengers and went 10-12 at the ATP level, including a 3rd Rd loss at Miami, SF loss at Atlanta, and QF loss at Memphis – he seems to like the states!! Look for a 30-40 spot rise in the rankings from him during 2017.
#104 –  Hyeon Chung (#51) — A major backslide in 2016 after poor results thru the French and then injury thru early September. But boasting decent size (6’1”), good movement, and nice ball-striking capabilities, Chung went 2-1 in Challenger finals during the Fall, and seems poised to rise back inside the Top 70 at least in 2017.
#105 –  Jared Donaldson (#134) — JD won 7 ATP matches (10 losses) in 2016, and also had 3 Challenger SF losses, and one Challenger R-up. He heated up on the hardcourts in summer, qualifying and then winning 2 Rds at the Toronto Masters and then doing the same at the US Open, beating Goffin and Troicki before Karlovic ended the magical run. Could eventually develop a healthy rivalry with fellow Americans Fritz & Tiafoe.
#108 –  Frances Tiafoe (#176) — Read above…(American Men)
#116 –  Stefan Kozlov (#351) — A massive rankings jump for the young American as he started the year playing Futures events. He made 3 Challenger finals, winning his final one, his last event of 2016, in Columbus Ohio. He surprised everyone with wins on the grass over Nishioka and Stevie Johnson at s’Hertogenbosch in June, 2 of his 3 ATP match wins on the year. Top 80 in 2017???
Other Young Names to Watch Out For – #141 Ernesto Escobedo (20 yrs old)…#143 Duckhee Lee (18)…#153 Quentin Halys (20)…#156 Andrey Rublev (19)…#160 Elias Ymer (20)…#198 Michael Mmoh (18)…#201 Noah Rubin (20)…#204 Reilly Opelka (19 – 6’10”)…#205 Alexander Bublik (19 – beat Agut at Moscow)…#209 Stefanos Tsitsipas (18 – made back-to-back Challenger finals this Fall)…#285 Tommy Paul (19)…#304 Mackenzie McDonald (21 – NCAA Champ from UCLA – quick & athletic)…#492 Mikael Ymer (18 – beat Verdasco at Stockholm 6-2, 6-1)….and finally, #601 Felix Agur-Aliassime (Just 16 yrs old, won US Open Juniors – watched the match….has ATP first serve heat already, a real weapon…good athlete, very fluid…nice size…all the raw tools to be great). NOTE: Thanasi Kokkinakis, still just 20, basically missed all of 2016 with injury, but is expected back at the start of 2017. He currently has no ranking, but reached #69 in the rankings in the middle of 2015, and is very much a youthful factor if healthy.
Other Random Musings on 2016 – #38 Juan Martin Del Potro finally came back on tour, and with quite a dramatic splash. In chronological order – 1) Olympic silver after beating Djoker in first round. 2) Making US Open QFs. 3) Winning Stockholm – his first ATP title since 2014 Sydney. 4) Coming back from 2 sets down to Cilic in Davis Cup finals Rubber #4, before storming back to win and help lead Argentina to its first Davis Cup title….#4 Stan Wawrinka’s 3 tourneys before winning US Open – 2nd Rd Wimby, SFs Toronto, 3rd Rd Cincy; then 3 events afterwards – R-up St Petersburg, 3rd Rd Shanghai, QFs Basel — he is so hot n cold, but can be EN FUEGO when on.…#62 Alexandr Dolgopolov continued to disappoint, the mercurial magician losing his last 6 matches of 2016 before stopping after the US Open….Speaking of talented underachievers, #151 Ernests Gulbis virtually fell off the tennis map after a surprise 4th Rd appearance at the French. He lost immediately in his next 3 tourneys, culminating with a loss to #118 Rajeev Ram at Toronto, before halting play for the year….#11 David Goffin had his best year yet, and ditto for #3 Milos Raonic, who held match points on Murray in the SFs of the London ATP Championships (longest ‘best of 3’ match of the year – 3:38 – and possibly the best match of the year, at any length!)….#21 David Ferrer fell out of the Top 10 for the first time since 2010, and at 34 yrs old, it’s doubtful he’ll ever return….Can #12 Tsonga and #10 Berdych, both 31, continue to hang around the Top 10 in 2017?….Nice to see #17 Grigor Dimitrov turn his season around after dropping to #40 in July. He made the 4th Rd at US Open, then beat Pouille, Nadal, and Raonic on his way to the Beijing final before losing to Murray….Hats off to #20 Ivo Karlovic for finishing inside the top 20 at age 37. Two more titles in 2016 give him 8 for his career….The diminutive German #33 Philip Kohlschreiber has remained largely inside the Top 40 since 2007, maximizing his talent to take 7 titles and make 9 slam 4th rounds (with 1 slam QF), including a funky, weirdly coincidental 3-year streak of beating Isner in the US Open 3rd round. But this year he failed to win a single slam match, and I’d be surprised to see the 33 yr old in the Top 40 next year at this time….Finally, #362 Tommy Robredo surprised a lot of people when he faded from the scene with injuries after 2011, at age 29, only to resurface strongly in 2013, his comeback peaking at #14 in mid-2014. But he faded again this year, injuries forcing him off the tour for 7 months, and though he’s back and played Challengers to close 2016, at 34 yrs old now, we’ve likely seen the last of Robredo’s relevance on the ATP Tour – one of the best clay-courters ever to never make the French SFs.
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